PUDR strongly condemns the death of Khalid Mujahid, an undertrial arrested in 2007 in connection with bomb blasts in UP earlier that year. Mujahid died on 19 May, 2013 when he was being escorted by a team of the Uttar Pradesh state police from a court in Faizabad to Lucknow jail. His death while under police escort in what is a clear case of custodial killing raises several questions - the rights of citizens, especially Muslim youth; the character of the police and state; the truth behind terror cases and arrests.
Khalid Mujahid, together with Tariq Qasmi had been shown as arrested on 22 December 2007 from Barabanki railway station. The ATS accused them of being behind the bomb blasts in Lucknow and Faizabad courts in November 2007, and the blast in Gorakhpur, claiming that explosives and other incriminating material were found on the two. The Bahujan Samaj Party, then in power, set up a Commission of Inquiry in March 2008 following protests against the arrests.
The Justice RD Nimesh Commission of Inquiry constituted by the state government to look into this matter submitted its report in December 2012 almost exactly five years after their arrests.
The inquiry commission examined police records, affidavits and testimonies of witnesses. On this basis, it concluded there was ample evidence to show that Tariq Qasmi and Khalid Mujahid were arrested not on 22 December 2007 as claimed, but on 12 December and 16 December respectively. The Commission reports that when the National Loktantrik Party’s youth leader in UP Choudhary Chadrapal threatened to immolate himself on 22 December if by then the two Muslim youth were not released, that the top brass decided to show their arrest on 22 December from Barabanki railway station. The Commission recommended action against the concerned officers and personnel who could be identified.
Despite the conclusions of the report and evidence cited, the now ruling Samajwadi Party too dragged its feet. By the time the government acted on the report, another six months passed. Finally on the basis of the Commission’s report the state government moved an application to withdraw the case. However the Special Court in Barabanki turned down the application in May 2013, claiming that the charges were much too serious. And then, nine days later, Khalid died in police custody, in circumstances which remain mysterious.
Some light can be shed on the so-called mystery by recalling that Khalid’s story is one that is being played out over and over again. The forms may be different but the essential plot and characters remain the same. Bomb blast/s occur. Muslim youth are picked up. Connections with SIMI etc. are alleged; seizure of explosives and extremist literature produced as evidence. In many cases the accused are found to be innocent, having been wrongly incarcerated for years. They are either released on bail or cases withdrawn or they may still continue to be in jail due to various reasons. This, if they are lucky. It isn’t unusual that some like Khalid never return. Not too long back in November 2012 Quateel Siddiqui (arrested for his alleged involvement in the German Bakery blasts) too died in a high security cell in Yerawada jail in Pune, in judicial custody. Again, under so called ‘mysterious circumstances.’ However generally no one is held accountable for the years lost and lives destroyed.
In this context PUDR welcomes the fact that in this case a rare FIR has been filed against 42 police personnel, including the former DG of Police Uttar Pradesh. Whether the case will be properly investigated, and the guilty prosecuted, remains to be seen.
Khalid Mujahid’s arrest, imprisonment and custodial death exposes the brazenness with which the police and ATS routinely arrest Muslim youth under false charges, force ‘confessions’, torture and kill them in custody. It also reveals the callous attitude of elected governments wary of displeasing the police, ATS or the Hindutva elements; and a compromised judiciary for whom terrorist activity requires no proof; guilt is decided by the magnitude of the alleged crime.
These acts of omission and commission expose a disturbing synchronicity between various agencies in terrorizing ordinary citizens, particularly Muslim youth, in the alleged fight against terrorism. The fact that a person could remain incarcerated for years after being abducted illegally and implicated in a fabricated case raises the issue of institutionalization of bias against Muslim youth in the name of fighting ‘terrorism’. Not only does ‘let law takes its course’ approach means years can elapse before those falsely implicated, mostly Muslim youth, win back their freedom. But their struggle to do so through the legal system is now coming under attack from Hindutva forces in an organized way amounting to a violation of the right to legal defense. While protests against Khalid’s custodial death were expressed in several cities in UP including Faizabad immediately afterwards, the local Bar Association passed a resolution expelling Khalid Mujahid’s lawyer Jamal Ahmad. His assistant Mohammad Shakeel was grievously injured. Indeed local bar associations have been issuing diktats that those accused of terror attacks will not be defended by their members and anyone who defies this ban will face expulsion and threat to life. Their recurrent diktats and attacks on lawyers who defy their ban has not persuaded either the High Court/Supreme Court or the Bar Council of India to show any concern over this subversion of the ‘rule of law’.
The death of Khalid Mujahid, raises questions about the police, lower judiciary and legal profession and their commitment to uphold, without discrimination, the constitutionally mandated protection of life and liberty of every citizen. PUDR calls upon all democratically minded people to protest against this attack on democratic rights and violation of the laws of natural justice and demands that:
- Criminal responsibility be fixed in the in death of Khalid Mujahid and the guilty punished.
- The Bar Associations expel lawyers obstructing legal aid to the accused, and lawyers guilty of attacking Khalid’s defense counsels be immediately disbarred.
- Arbitrary picking up and illegal detention of Muslim youth be stopped and officials guilty of their wrongful confinement and fabrication of cases against be prosecuted and punished.
D. Manjit and Asish Gupta